FALLING RIMROCKS

Dangerous rocks to be removed from Rims in separate projects next week

2011-04-14T00:00:00Z 2011-04-25T10:41:36Z Dangerous rocks to be removed from Rims in separate projects next weekBy ED KEMMICK Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
April 14, 2011 12:00 am  • 

A company from Vancouver, Wash., plans to be in Billings all next week to remove a giant boulder that is still inside a house it all but destroyed last year.

Accurate Concrete Cutting is also under a contract with the city of Billings to remove loosely attached slabs of rock from the Rims above that house, located at 1313 Granite Ave.

Meanwhile, two couples whose houses sit beneath another dangerous portion of the city-owned Rims will pay Accurate Concrete Cutting $50,000 to remove a 20-foot-wide slab of sandstone while the company is in town.

The Washington company originally submitted a bid of $189,000 to do the work at both locations, but the City Council voted to pay only for the work above Granite Avenue.

That prompted Dale and Margaret Vermillion, who live on Shady Lane under an unstable rock estimated at 200 to 250 tons, and their neighbors on Rimview Drive, Kevin and Erica Bruen, to offer $25,000 toward the $50,000 cost of having their rock removed.

After the City Council declined to consider that offer at its meeting Monday night, the Vermillions and Bruens offered Tuesday to pick up the entire cost.

"We just don't feel safe living under that rock," Erica Bruen said.

The Vermillions and the Bruens believe the city should accept responsibility for removing the rock, she said, but if they had sued the city over the issue, it might have taken years to resolve, "and in the meantime this rock would still be hanging above our house."

The Granite Street house, owned by Jon Lodge and Jane Deschner, is on the far north end of 13th Street West. It was hit by huge boulder last October after a 60-foot section of the sandstone Rims, estimated at 1,000 tons, sheared off and broke into smaller pieces that crashed down the slope.

The rock above Shady Lane is just west of the roundabout in front of the airport. It became a danger in February 2010, when the bottom half of a pillar of rock broke loose and split into several giant boulders that came to rest a little way downhill. The city paid for an engineering study of the unstable top half of the rock, which is tipping away from the Rims.

"We feel very strongly that it's a city rock on city land above city-zoned property," Erica Bruen said. Most of the Rims above the north side of city is city-owned park land.

Mike Whitaker, director of the Parks Department, said Accurate Concrete plans to send a crew to Billings on Sunday. After stabilizing the Rims above the Granite Street house with large steel plates and cables, Whitaker said, the company will begin working on removing the boulder from inside the house.

By next Friday, the company expects to be done with that job and ready to remove the unstable rock from the face of the Rims. It will have to clear a landing area first, so that any slabs brought down don't send other boulders tumbling downhill. Residents will leave adjacent houses while the Rims are being worked on, Whitaker said.

Whitaker said Accurate Concrete will do some preparation work on the Shady Lane project and expects to be able to bring that rock down on Saturday, April 23, after the Granite Street project is completed.

The company originally wanted to contract directly with the city, not private property owners, but City Administrator Tina Volek said the City Council did not want to assume responsibility or liability.

Accurate Concrete later said its attorneys OK'd working directly with the homeowners. The city will be involved only to the extent of allowing the company to do the work on city-owned land, Volek said.

Whitaker said the city will pay the $139,000 bill for the work above Granite Street, and the City Council will decide later whether to seek reimbursement from the property owners or their insurer.

Contact Ed Kemmick at ekemmick@billingsgazette.com or 657-1293.

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